What is Wonder?

by Meghan Fitzgerald

I recently had the good fortune to chat with David Sewell McCann and Rebecca Beegle, Chief Storyteller and Producer of Sparkle Stories. We came together to discuss their story, Winter Wonder, one of many gems in a series about the Goose-eye wilderness school. And, thanks to their SparkleCast podcast, you can hear our conversation too.

During our chat, David asked me to define what wonder means to me. We use the word wonder so often in our work at Tinkergarten; with great joy, we even call ourselves “facilitators of wonder.” But a word so rich with meaning deserves real thought.

Wonder requires us to slow down, to pay close attention and to notice. When we take time and use all senses, the natural world proves full of magic to discover like the patterns of each unique snowflake, the sweet sip of a honeysuckle, or the soft kiss of a breeze on the cheek. The living things, objects and forces in nature do not disappoint, especially to young eyes and ears. 

Once we notice, we experience delight, surprise, and curiosity. These responses bring the chance to question and make sense of what we notice. How does it feel to get really soaked with rain? Why does the pond make that sound when it’s frozen? What would happen if I try to stick this object into the mud? Discoveries can also inspire children to imagine. A hidden grove becomes a castle, a stick a baton, the wind a character in their play. Magic lives quite close to the surface outdoors. Whether through questioning or pretending, children cultivate new understanding and the deep desire to explore further. 

Perhaps the most subtle part of wonder is what follows all of this, especially if you make a habit of modeling it. Each of these discoveries not only makes us think or imagine, but they also help us appreciate the amazing world around us. Kids see how beautiful, intricate, coordinated and special our world truly is. No matter how or why you think we all got here, ours is a mind-blowing home, and there is so much for which we can be grateful.

In short, I think wonder is a habit of mind that drives a lifelong love of learning and sense of being in the world. I’ll end with one of my favorite takes on wonder, beautifully described by Ed Bieber, a naturalist and educator for over 40 years, as he describes the experience of being with nature:

The wonder of it all—the joy, the soaring spirits and reverential moments, the peace and feelings of belonging, of knowing that we are all part of a world that is pretty darn good.
— Ed Bieber